A plant planned in Chaves County designed to turn dairy waste into biofuel has been delayed at least six months after hitting a snag with its state ground water d ischarge permit.
AG Power broke ground in October on its property at Price’s Lane, with plans to begin construction that month. The plant was expected to begin processing manure as early as April.
However, the deal hit a setback with its New Mexico Environment Department permit.
“The delay has been with the discharge permitting office,” said AG Power President Dewey Vaughn. “It’s nothing we’ve done. It’s a matter of not having enough staff people to do as much workload that they have.”
A public notice was posted in the newspaper Sunday, calling for a 30-day public comment period. The company did review and make adjustments to its application in the past few months with NMED staff, Vaughn said.
“The clock is now ticking,” Vaughn said. “Sometimes it gets locked into the state bureaucracy.”
Once a permit is secured, the company can begin building on its 40-acre site, he said.
NMED spokesman Jim Winchester said AG power was delayed due to data gaps in the application.
“We sat down with AG Power several times to resolve (the data gaps), which takes time,” Winchester said. “AG Power is satisfied with the outcome and the timeframe works for their funding, anticipated construction, etc.”
The published public notice starts a comment period when the public can submit comments and request a public hearing.
If NMED gets requests for a public hearing, Secretary Ryan Flynn will determine if “significant public interest” exists to hold a hearing. If a hearing is held, the process will result in a final recommendation by Flynn within 30 days, Winchester said.
“The secretary then has 30 days to approve the (discharge permit), approve with modification(s) or deny the (discharge permit),” Winchester said.
If no public comments are received, the permit will be approved.
A first of its kind in the state, the project is a partnership between county dairy owners and AG Power.
The first phase will include Pirtle Farms Dairy, Pirtle and Sons No. 2 Dairy, Nature’s Dairy, Tom Visser Dairy, Arroyo Dairy, Double Aught Dairy and Three Amigos Dairy.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Dist.-32, of Pirtle Farms Dairy, said the farms have continued nutrient management plans while waiting for the new program to begin. Pirtle was one of several dignitaries, that included Gov. Susana Martinez, who attended the October groundbreaking ceremony.
“We’ve just been continuing to do what we have been for the last two years,” Pirtle said. “It’s one of those things. It provides a common-sense solution to an issue that most dairymen have to deal with.
“It’s pretty sad to see government actually got in the way of something that will actually improve the situation,” Pirtle said.
Once operational, the process will allow manure to enter the company’s facility and be converted to methane gas and eventually compressed to natural gas that can be used by buses and trucks.
The dairies will be connected to AG Power’s plant by underground pipelines.
At each dairy, wastewater will be transferred to a 5,000-gallon concrete receiving tank and mixed with manure and heated in a concrete mix tank.
The wastewater will then be pumped through a pipeline to lift stations underground to fiberglass tanks. Then, it is pumped to a digester. Wastewater is further processed to separate solids before it is discharged to another holding tank for evaporation with some discharge to 230 acres of irrigated cropland.